Nothing about how you tackle photography is set in stone. These are my thoughts that I hope will get those starting out on landscape work to think about what they are doing and more importantly why they are doing it.
Landscape photography is probably the most popular form of image making after family snapshots and at it?s most basic form simply entails recording that which was in front of the camera without a lot of input from the photographer. There must be hundreds of thousands of such pictures taken every year to record the family holiday venue.
However good, emotive landscape work is far more difficult and demands a real contribution and involvement from the photographer. The greatest demand is put upon the photographer?s time. Being in the right place, at the right time of the year and at the right time of the day is not something normally achieved by accident or serendipity thought the latter can be the cause of many great images. The weather needed to produce the mood you wish to convey is all-important and that does not necessarily mean a nice sunny day. Paul Hill sums landscape up as ‘photographing the weather over the land I walk upon everyday’. Familiarity does not breed contempt it breeds good pictures. You are more likely to produce a masterpiece within a few miles of where you live than when on holiday in an unfamiliar area.
A few basics….
Equipment…. Really serious landscape workers still use at least a medium format 6×6 film camera or more probably a 5×4 field camera with all the movements; we will concentrate on the more common SLR digital camera.
Virtually any camera can be used to take landscapes. A SLR with a wide-angle lens is a popular choice; lenses up to short telephoto are also regularly used. Extreme wide angle or very long telephoto lenses are used to achieve special effects but they do need to be used sparingly and with some experience. More important is the photographer developing the ability to select and interpret the scene.
A great aid to making that selection is a viewing card; this is simply a rectangular piece of card with a rectangular hole matching the image ratio of your camera, usually 4:3 for a compact and 1:1.5 for a SLR. You hold this in front of you to isolate features of the landscape as an aid to composition. Even simpler, and much easier to carry around, is to make a rectangle using the thumb and forefinger of each hand; an old trick used by painters for hundreds of years. It?s easily done with the palm of the left hand facing away from you and the palm of the right hand facing you.
To use a tripod? That?s up to you; I rarely do mainly because they are such a burden and there are other ways of ensuring adequate sharpness. Don?t let that put you off carrying one if you want the weight training.
What makes a good composition? It?s all in the eye of the viewer and so very subjective. There are some basic rules, which, once mastered, you will break to make pictures with even more impact.
The rule of thirds. A lot of cameras enable you to superimpose a grid onto the viewfinder, which divides the image into nine equal segments.
The ?rule? states that the strongest position for the main subject is on one of the four intersection points.
Try to get the horizon on one of the thirds; very rarely does having the horizon centrally placed work. You will also be told not to have the main subject centrally placed, again good advice until you learn when to break the ‘rule’.
A lot of critics talk about lead in lines. This simply means using something, a path, fence, shadow etc to lead your eye into the picture, through the main subject and then out of the image. There are some forms of leads that work better than others, the most effective is an ?S? curve through the picture. Also arranging items within the picture can do a similar job, three objects forming a triangle is a common one. Getting a balanced image is again something that comes with experience; a small dark area near, say, the left side of the picture can be balanced by a larger bright area closer in from the right hand side. Think of an old fashioned balance scales and you’ll get the idea.
That?s enough theory to be going on with, remember there are no rules in art. Slavishly follow the above and you?ll take ?nice? pictures; learn when to break these rules and you?ll make great pictures. Note the use of ?take? and ?make?; the latter implies involvement by the photographer, the other just pressing the button.
Possibly the most common fault in landscape work is including too much in the picture. Grand vistas are best treated as panoramas, now a relatively simple procedure with modern computing power and software. Beware of too much uninteresting foreground or empty sky, and even an imposing sky when that distracts from the main subject. Personally I find pictures that isolate a detail far more appealing. Don?t be afraid to use wide apertures to throw the background out of focus, not every landscape has to have every thing from a few feet in front of the camera to the horizon sharp. When taking the picture try to assess what drew your attention to the scene and make that the main subject. A good question to ask your self is ?If someone showed me the picture I?m taking and I had no knowledge of where or why the picture had been taken; would it hold my interest??
Finally study the work of other landscape workers, Watkins, Adams, Godwin, Gallager and so many others. See how they manipulate viewpoints and the lands features, don’t copy them but be inspired by them to develop your own style.
I use a Samsung GX-10 bought from